Joan Miró - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, June 24, 2021 | Phillips

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  • "Miró was synonymous with freedom—something more aerial, more liberated, lighter than anything I had seen before." —Alberto Giacometti

    Among Joan Miró’s works from 1936, Figures stands apart for its ambivalent mood and juxtaposition of the lively innocence of its seemingly blithe figures against a haunting and turbulent background. Executed on May 29, 1936, just months before Miró was forced to flee his homeland at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the present work, formerly in the collection of renowned New York gallerist Ruth O’Hara, captures the anxious uncertainty and stalwart optimism of a period of great turmoil for both the artist and his home country. 


    Spain in a Time of War


    Shortly after completing Figures, Miró returned to Paris in the autumn of 1936 to consign works for an upcoming exhibition at the Pierre Matisse gallery in New York. The escalating turmoil of the Spanish Civil War, however, forced the artist to remain in the French capital for the next five years, until 1941. As Jacques Dupin writes, “It was just at this time that his art underwent changes as sudden and far reaching as to deserve the term 'cataclysmic'. The serene works of the years devoted to concentration on plastic concerns and to spiritual control of figures and signs now gave way to a new outburst of subjectivism, to an expressionistic unleashing of instinctual forces. The volcano which for some years now had been quiescent suddenly erupted. The clear skies suddenly clouded over, and a violent storm proceeded to darken the peaceful artistic climate—indeed, to shake Miró's art to its foundation.”i

    "It was just at this time that his art underwent changes as sudden and far reaching as to deserve the term 'cataclysmic'... The volcano which for some years now had been quiescent suddenly erupted." —Jacques Dupin

    Nevertheless, Miró’s creative output remained strong in the face of the displacement, tumult, and anxiety of war, as in the following years he would complete an impressive roster of major works including Nature morte au vieux soulier, currently in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and referred to by the artist’s friend and biographer Jacques Dupin as “Miró’s Guernica.” Figures is among the works that presaged these later, large-scale works during the artist’s forced separation from his native Spain. Although by the outbreak of the war Miró was surely a citizen of the world–spending most of the year in France but returning each summer to Catalonia–the pain, confusion, and hope he felt for his homeland is evident in Figures.


    Drawing Hope


    Two individuals stand out in the foreground, characteristic members of Miró’s formal ensemble, expertly rendered with sprezzatura brushwork against a muddied and hazy background. At its edges, Figures is more clearly defined, with fairly delineated bands of blue, red, and yellow. Yet at the work’s center, they crash together in a darkened haze that subsumes the two figures in a hazy grey smoke. Despite the work’s emotional gravity, a marked optimism shines through as the two figures stand bravely in the face of the chaos that surrounds them, evidence of Miro’s belief that, “the forms expressed by an individual who is part of society must reveal the movement of a soul trying to escape the reality of the present, which is particularly ignoble today, in order to approach new realities, to offer other men the possibility of rising above the present.”ii
    A significant stylistic proving ground for later artistic achievements, Figures daringly challenges the tumultuous political context that surrounds its execution and, through its dramatically defiant imagery, maintains an optimistic and poetic lyricism in the face of the chaos and ideological Armageddon of the Spanish Civil War. Inscribed “Danse” on the reverse, Figures invites the viewer to consider why the titular figures, like Miró, carry on undeterred in the face of conflict.

    i Jacques Dupin, Joan Miró, Life and Work, London, 1962, p. 262.
    ii Joan Miró, quoted in Dupin, Joan Miró, Life and Work, p. 262.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Oriol, Barcelona
      Private Collection, Barcelona
      Ubu Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Jacques Dupin and Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró. Drawings: Catalogue raisonné. Drawings, Volume 1: 1901-1937, Paris, 2008, no. 621, p. 300 (illustrated)

Property from the Estate of Ruth O’Hara



signed "Miró" center right; signed, inscribed and dated "joan miró "Danse" 29/5/36" on the reverse
watercolor and ink on paper
16 1/4 x 12 7/8 in. (41.2 x 32.9 cm)
Executed on May 29, 1936.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $107,100

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 24 June 2021